The Atlantic Coast Line.

They went where the train went.  Clutching tickets.  A suitcase tied with rope.  To a cafe in Norfolk.  A government job in D.C. A season of day’s work in the Bronx.  A school year in Brooklyn.  The Philadelphia docks.  The Atlantic Coast Line took them.  It brought them back.  It took them again.


ACL passenger route map, circa 1900.

A cousin married a railroad man.  Twice a week, Mama Sarah in Wilson handed him up a shoebox packed with cornbread and ham and sweet potatoes.  At Dudley, he threw the package off the train to another cousin standing on the ditch bank.  And thus Grandpa Lewis and Grandma Mag were fed.

Business, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

C.D. Sauls, influential colored man of Snow Hill, invests.

In 1897, cousin Cain D. Sauls was one of two African-American members of a five-man delegation that traveled eastern North Carolina advocating for the “Snow Hill Railroad.”

Goldsboro_Weekly_Argus__4_15_1897_CD_Sauls_Snow_Hill_RR (1)

Goldsboro Weekly Argus, 15 April 1897.

A little over a year later, North Carolina’s secretary of state approved the incorporation of the Great Eastern Railway Company, which planned to build and operate a 130+ mile railroad passing through Johnston, Wayne, Greene, Pitt, Beaufort and Hyde Counties. Among the 25 stockholders incorporating the railroad? C.D. Sauls!


Raleigh Morning Post, 15 October 1898.

Maternal Kin, Paternal Kin, Vocation

Where we worked: “All the live-long day.”

Henry Solice, near Mount Olive NC – railroad section hand, circa 1910.

Walter Holt, Greensboro NC – husband of Mollie Henderson Holt; fireman, Southern Railway Company, 1910s-20s.

Edward N. Allen, Newport News VA – railroad laborer, circa 1918.

Eli McNeely, Salisbury NC – worked in “scrap can” at Southern Railroad shop, circa 1920.

Atwood Artice, Portsmouth VA – machinist helper, railroad shop, circa 1920.

Freddie Artis, Portsmouth VA – railroad freighthandler, circa 1920.

Walter Godbold, Rocky Mount NC — husband of Tilithia Aldridge King Godbold Dabney; worked at roundhouse, 1920s.

Quincy McNeely, Asheville NC — mail porter, railway express, circa 1940.


The sixth in an occasional series exploring the ways in which my kinfolk made their livings in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Oral History, Photographs, Vocation

Lon Colvert: straight and shady.

If reports are to be believed, Lon Colvert had a bit of a shaky start. “Otho Turner”?


Statesville Landmark, 18 August 1898.


Statesville Carolina Mascot, 8 February 1900.

Lou Colvert was Lon’s uncle. No details on Lon packing. But he switched gears a bit.  To retailing, which specifically meant selling liquor — unauthorized.

Iredell County Superior Court —

Lon Colvert, retailing; guilty.  

— Statesville Landmark, 5 Nov 1901.

Another poor outcome.

“Cases Disposed of Since Monday — Some Recruits for the Chain Gang — A City Ordinance Held Invalid”

The following cases have been disposed of in the Superior Court since Monday:    …

Lon Colvert, convicted of retailing, was discharged on payment of the costs. 

— Statesville Landmark, 8 Nov 1901.

But somewhere along in here, he began to right his ship.

Notices of New Advertisements.

L.W. Colvert has moved his barber shop from Depot Hill to 109 east Broad street.

— Statesville Landmark, 23 Aug 1904.

It’s not clear when Lon first opened his barber shop, or how he got into the business, but it was a good move. Depot Hill was a few blocks south of downtown; the 100 block of East Broad was right at the heart of the business district. He had arrived.

Still, there were setbacks. (I read “liquor” in this “little pilgrimage,” but I could be wrong.)

“Played His Bondsman False and Will Spend his Holidays in Jail.”

Thursday afternoon a colored barber, Lon Colvert by name, braced Mr. J.P. Cathey for a horse and buggy with which to make a little pilgrimage that night, and Mr. Cathey refused.  Lon was just obliged to make that little run, so later he stated the case to Jo. Thomas.  Jo. is the colored individual who worked for Mr. Cathey then and who is now being boarded by the county.  Jo. slipped out with a horse and buggy.  Lon made his trip, came back, paid Jo. one plank, which he shoved down in his jeans, and then Jo. slept the sleep of the consciousless offender.

But the snow that fell during the interval between the exit and return of that buggy caused Jo’s little house of cards to tumble.  Next morning Mr. Cathey saw the tracks, asked Jo. who had got a buggy the night before, and Jo straightaway told the thing that was not.  So Mr. Cathey got off of Jo’s bond, which he had signed not long since, and now Jo. is behind bars.

— Statesville Landmark, 20 Dec 1904.

He pressed on.

Lon Colvert, colored, has recently equipped his barber shop on east Broad street with a handsome two-chair dressing case and has made other improvements in the shop.

— Statesville Landmark, 1 Jan 1907.

Occasionally, his friends let him down.


Statesville Landmark, 1 January 1907.

But he had a new wife and a new baby to add to his first three, and the straight and narrow was starting to win.


Statesville Landmark, 7 May 1907.


Statesville Landmark, 7 January 1910.

A momentary setback, no more. Lon moved his business back down Center Street toward the train depot and entered the golden age of his entrepreneurship, the period of my grandmother’s childhood.

Papa had a barber shop.  Well, of course, Papa did white customers. And, see, the trains came through Statesville going west to Kentucky and Tennessee and Asheville and all through there.  They came through, and they had, they would stop in Statesville to coal up and water up, you know.  There were people there to fill up that thing in the back where the coal was.  And there was another — it had great, big round things that they’d put in water.  And when those trains would stop for refueling, they would, there were a couple of men who would come. I can see Walker and my uncle and Papa standing, waiting for these men who were on the train to give them a shave and get back on the train in time.  And there wasn’t any need of anybody else coming in at that time ‘cause they couldn’t be waited on.  They were waiting for these conductors and maybe mailmen, but I know there would be at least three at a time.  And Papa would shave them.  And he made a lot of money.

Papa had a taxi, too. Walker drove it most of the time.  And then he would hire somebody to drive it other times.  And then when people had to go to Wilkesboro, Papa would take them.  Because Wilkesboro was a town north of Statesville. And there was no transportation out there.  No buses, no trains, or anything.  So when people would come on the train that were, what they call them, drummers, the salesmen, when they would come through, Papa would carry them up there. 

And he had this clean-and-press in the back of the barbershop. And, look, had on the window, on the store, ‘Press Your Clothes While You Wait.’  I can see those letters on there right now.  ‘Press Your Clothes While You Wait.’  And people would go in there, get their clothes pressed, you know.  And I know ‘barber shop’ was on the door….  ‘L.W. Colvert Barber Shop.’  ‘L.W.’ was on the side of this door, and ‘Colvert’ was on this side of the door.  They had a double door.

There were, of course, risks to doing business. Though I’m casting a side-eye at the carnie. (“H.G.” was Lon’s 21 year-old half-brother Golar, and I never knew he was a partner in the business.)

Damages for Scorching Suit — Court Cases.

Lon Colvert and H.G. Tomlin, doing a pressing club business under the name of Colvert & Tomlin, were before Justice Sloan Saturday in a case in which Chas. Moore, white, a member of the carnival, was asking $18 damage for them.  They pressed a suit for Moore and it was scorched, for which Moore asked damage.  The case was finally compromised by Colvert & Tomlin paying Moore $5 and $1.20 cost. 

— Statesville Landmark, 27 March 1917.

And there was the little matter of a charge of carrying a concealed weapon in 1919; a jury returned a not guilty verdict.  Still, a burglary at the shop was an omen. The good years were coming to an end. Lon was struck with encephalitis in the 1920s and was largely unable to work in his final years.


Statesville Landmark, 25 September 1925.

By this time, Golda had embarked upon a peripatetic life in the Ohio Valley, and  Walker was left to keep his father’s businesses running.  He exercised his best judgment.

Walker Colvert, driver of the Wilkesboro jitney Steve Herman, driver of the Charlotte jitney, and Henry Metlock, driver of the Taylorsville jitney were charged with delivering passengers to the depot rather than the jitney station.  It appearing that all the violations were emergency calls, the defendants were discharged.

Statesville Landmark, 1 Mar 1926.

Lon Colvert died 23 October 1930.  “He was an old resident of Statesville,” his obituary noted, “and for a number of years had a barbershop on South Center street, near the Southern station.”

COLVERT -- Barbershop 2 The barbershop, 1918, when it was at 101 South Center Street. Walker Colvert, center, and L.W. Colvert, right.


Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved. Copy of photograph in possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Land, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Oral History

Land along the railroad.

Me: What did, why did Grandpa Henry come to Statesville? Was he a farmer? What did he do?

My grandmother: I don’t know. I really don’t know.

Me: He was from Rowan County.

My grandmother: He certainly didn’t have no farm in Statesville. It seems to me he had a big, big lot  of land where they had this house. Where they built this house. But it was near a railroad, and trains — cinders from the trains fell on the house and burnt it.


On 21 Dec 1903, G.M. Austin and wife J.A. Austin sold H.W. McNeely of Iredell County a parcel bounded as follows: “Beginning at a stake 300 feet from Bettie Van Pelts S.E. corner and 50 feet from the center of Rail Road, and running N. 10 degrees E. 200 feet to a stake then S. 11 W. 200 feet to a stake 50 feet N of the center of the Rail Road, then N 79 degrees W. 100 feet to the beginning also 1/2 acres adjoining the above lot, and known as the J.V. Houston land it being same land sold for taxes by M.A. White by deed from T.Y. Cowper.” McNeely paid $164.

Extract from interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.